when you're burned out (and lists just don't help)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Burnout.  I have it.

I'm tired of standing in front of my pantry every afternoon, staring down the work of cooking, serving, and cleaning up another meal for six people that most of them aren't going to eat .  School has slowed to a contrived trickle, and my patience for chasing toddlers out of toilets is thin.  I am uninspired and disengaged.  I sleep through my writing time, then write during time dedicated to my kids, while they squabble and destroy the room around me.  I daydream of beaches and room service, leisurely mornings and quiet meals.  I want a vacation from my life.

But that isn't my reality.

My reality is this:  even when I'm burned out, I still have to feed six people every single night.  Even when I'm uninspired, I am responsible for educating my kids.  Even when I hide under the covers at the thought of walking through my routine another day, eventually I have to put my feet on the floor and go do it.

In the past, my response to burnout has been escape.  An extra cup of coffee, more screen time for the kids.  Drop them off with a friend, a glass of wine while I cook.  Some forms of escape are healthier than others, but lately I have realized even a healthy escape doesn't actually inspire me.  It doesn't relieve the symptoms of burnout or change my outlook, it just numbs me for a little while.

This time, I'm opting out of escape.  I'm looking for solutions.  And I wonder - are you burned out too?

The writer in me wants to throw out some easy answers and hit publish.  "Five ways to beat burnout" - it would include things like, "make it a date" and "shake things up."  But I find no grace there.  Most often, a list of suggestions reads to me like a list of failures.  "Try this" sounds like "You don't want to do any of this, do you?"  Posts intended to help only pile guilt on top of my fatigue.

You'll find no guilt here, friends.  No guilt, and no escapes.  Instead, I am searching for real strategies to climb out of the mire.

As I have talked to older moms, prayed through my dilemma (eloquent prayers such as, "Please God, help!"), and failed often, a few observations have bubbled up.  Far from a list of suggestions, below is  what I have noticed during burnout.  Here are the insights that are helping me navigate my way back to a more inspired and focused day.

1.  My kids are burned out too.  I realized this largely through my failure.  So many tantrums, so many balled up assignments, so many sharp words.  Until it finally dawned on me that my kids feel as uninspired as I do.  They too are tired of our routine.  And when I offer them forms of escape - like extra screen time - it actually makes them more disengaged, more listless, more destructive.  I often say kids act the way adults feel, and this is no exception.  My kids feel the same way I do right now.

2.  I need endorphines.  Most often I feel burned out at the end of the season, when it is either too cold or too hot to do much outside and I've already employed my best life hacks for getting through indoor days.  This week I began running basement stairs and doing push ups just to get my blood moving, and I was surprised by how much more energy I had.

3.  New materials bring new inspiration.  When I can't get outside, music and online resources are where I find the most inspiration in this season of life.  I spent some time this week listening to TedTalks and finding new music for my phone.  Fresh ideas are breathing life into my stale routine.

The same is true for my children.  A coloring book and fresh set of markers will engage my little girl for hours.  A dollar store super hero captures my middle son's imagination. A new library book draws my oldest son in.  Often I think, "I'm not rewarding their misbehavior with prizes!" but when I think that way, I miss the point.  They need new materials to be inspired as much as I do.

a less-than-thrilling hike.  Worth the sunlight.
4.  There is a time for backing down.  When we are all disengaged, I typically start to crack the whip.  Clean up this mess!  Finish your work!  Stop squabbling!  I dig in my heels to regain a perceived lack of control at the very moment they most need to connect with me.  It is a recipe for disaster, yet I fall into the trap every time.  This time, I am focusing on relationships.  My routine is no longer accomplishing its goal.  Rather than clinging to the routine, I'm scrapping it.  This time, I'm clinging to the goal.

For me that means sitting next to my kids when I feel like sending them away.  It means turning off the tv sometimes, and watching it with them sometimes.  It means saying "yes" even though "yes" almost always means more work for me.  For you, connection may look different.  Maybe scrapping the routine means more time with friends, or maybe it means going back home more often.  Maybe it means more field trips, or less.  I would not begin to presume I know how you can best connect with your children.  Only you can answer that.  But when our routines no longer work toward our larger goals, it's time for a new routine.

I'm still burned out, still fighting to get through the day, still fighting the urge to dig in my heels.  But this time, I'm not looking for escapes, and I'm not accepting the guilt that once plagued me.  This time, I'm determined to glean what I can, find new inspiration, and reconnect to the relationships that are most important to me.

What insight do you have to share?  How do you navigate your way through burnout?


  1. Lovely post. I read it twice and am still thinking about what you said. Very thought provoking.

  2. Hi Stephanie! I know exactly how you are feeling! I have a two year old daughter and also take care of a three year old and a one year old. I can tell when they are getting bored because they start beating up on one another so then I try to throw in some coloring or stickers to entertain them. But it gets hard because everyday is the same. Like you said making a cup of tea makes me feel like I'm on a mini vacation just something different makes me sane again. Now that its getting nice outside I can through outside time into the mix of the routine which helps a lot. But boy, talk about major burn out! I'm right there with you Stephanie! Thank you for posting this, I don't feel so alone in this madness of being mom! Haha



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